- If the student is identified as having a disability, modifications and accommodations influence the final grade. Some assignments are shortened, some cut out completely, some made simpler etc.
- If the student is not yet identified as having a disability but we all see it and have to wait a whole year for our psychologist to get him formally identified and we know it'd be unfair to not give him the accommodations and modifications in the meantime.
- Full acceptance of late work, no matter how late if the students are in the lower level classes means grades are constantly tweaked and hardly ever carved in stone.
- If the student experienced some form of emotional trauma, incarceration, or extended medical condition which meant that a lot of school time was about productive as Dr Pepper in a car engine, then there's room for a grade change to possibly occur down the road.
- If the student made a huge effort, had good attendance, but doesn't qualify as a student with special needs, then there's a chance this will also influence his grade.
- Extra credit opportunities out the wazoo.
So... Say a kid takes advantage of half or more of the perks I've listed above... And say that kid gets an "A" in his classes because of those perks... And let's say another kid does not need to take advantage of ANY of them and also gains an "A"... Should a distinction be made? If so, how? If not, what are we saying about the kid who always handed in assignments on time compared to the kid who doesn't have a disability but handed everything in late and still earned the same grade? What life lesson are we teaching?
And what of the kids with special needs? What about the kid who is "included" in the college preparatory math class (as per his parents' demands and for no other reason, because he certainly doesn't qualify). So he sits in the corner and is learning to count to eight while the rest of the kids are doing algebra? So he meets his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) goal of learning to count to eight and so earns an "A" on his report card, and he's entitled to some recognition for meeting his goal, but it doesn't say on his report card that his "A" was for counting to eight as compared to his classmate who earned an "A" for correctly solving for variables in polynomials. Now with this kid, it's obvious he's handicapped just by looking at the poor chap, so he's not going to steal the other kid's place in Harvard or anything, but there are other examples that worry me more...
No one aspires to be a factory employee or fast food server, but some students REALLY have unhealthily ambitious dreams. More than once, my smart-mouthed kids think they have what it takes to be a lawyer because they assume the only job requirement is being able to argue and... Well.. Be a smart ass. You hope they'll eventually figure out that law school might not be the best option for them, but then you have a situation like this: A mentally retarded student who works her ass off and does all her work is bumped up to college preparatory freshman classes, not because she's truly capable, but because she can read at the 6th grade level. Our lower level classes are so overcrowded that our criteria has... Ahem... Dropped some. So I'm obliged to help her by modifying, accommodating until it's possible for her to pass her college prep. classes. So now she and her family think she's capable of going to college- which she might actually be- given some of the people I saw when I was in college, but definitely not law school... But she has no other dream. She's going to be a lawyer.
And then there's another situation that's very similar, but in this kid's case, his mother shares his belief that he's going to major in art in college. He's even less likely to succeed in college than my other girl and, frankly, his paintings and drawings are godawful. But hey, he's got an "A" in art class so that means he's good, right? Wrong. It means he met the bare minimum requirement of simply attempting each assignment, often at the pressure of both me and his art teacher because he was late with almost every single one. What does his "A" really mean?
As a special education teacher, I totally get that we should test these kids according to their level of ability and challenge them with reasonably higher expectations, but then shouldn't that be stated alongside their grade too? It's not like employers actually look at high school transcripts so we wouldn't be branding them against future employment... I just think a kid in a 9th grade English class who reads and writes on the 3rd grade level (at best) should only be able to earn an "A" if it's made clear that the criteria for her is VASTLY different from that of her peers.
There are kids who are graduating high school who can't read any higher than the 3rd grade level and don't even have identified special needs. What on Earth does graduation from a high school mean anymore? And ask for the kids who are identified as having special needs, we've done such a good job of boosting their self-confidence that the whole lot of them are going to be rap stars, basketball stars, lawyers, and future presidents and so don't always see the value of the fantastic programs on offer at the local career and technical education schools which don't just churn out minimum wage jobs, but some really great opportunities for those who may not be successful in college but want to learn a specialized profession.
I really don’t have an answer to this problem and will continue to dwell on this for as long as I’m a teacher and beyond. I think that if we support "our" kids through their triumphs and disappointments and help them find her way eventually, they’ll be fine, but if we were to harbor and push for unrealistic expectations as some of their parents do, that would be far more harmful. Don't get me wrong, I hate to sound like a dream-crushing bitch and there's nothing wrong with having dreams... Kids can and always do dream for the stars, you just have to be there for the times they fall to the ground and with the way we send these kids over the finish line known as graduation, it's rather like chucking them off the side of a cliff with no parachute. They leave us with shitty reading skills, great confidence, unrealistic aspirations with no basis on actual talent, and the belief that life actually offers a maternal lending hand constantly regardless of their level of effort , retakes, acceptance of subpar quality work that's LATE, and second, third, fourth, billionth chances to get the job done. What a sad disservice it is.